The houses on North and South streets in Litchfield hold a place of pride, as they are some of the oldest and most architecturally significant homes in the area. Built at a time when there were many summer residents, these houses were only used seasonally. Over the years as they began to change hands, they were updated, renovated and turned into full-time residences. The establishment of the borough of Litchfield within the town, a 5-mile area designated as a historic district, has insured that the original details of the buildings will be preserved.
Thanks to the Litchfield Aid of the Connecticut Junior Republic, on July 12 and 13 residents and visitors can visit some of these homes and gardens, several of which have never been open to the public. Held annually from 1934 to 2013, the house tour has been dormant the past five years. But it’s been restored as part of the celebration of Litchfield’s 300th anniversary, and features houses ranging from a 1685 saltbox to a 1954 Marcel Breuer mid-century modern.
Founded in 1904, the Connecticut Junior Republic provides services for at-risk and special needs young people in 13 locations throughout Connecticut. The Litchfield Aid, established in 1911 by a group of local women, is a volunteer group dedicated to improving the programs, services and faculties of the CJR.
As chairwoman of the open-house event, Marla Patterson has been working with committee members and homeowners. “None of this would be possible without the willingness and generosity of our homeowners to open up their houses and gardens to the public,” Patterson says.
The events commence on July 12 with a preview tour beginning at 4:30 p.m., followed by a cocktail reception at the Ozias Seymour House on South Street. On Saturday, the houses will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to purchasers of general admission tickets ($65).
Here is a sneak peek into some of the houses:
Thomas Painter House, 1682
This center-chimney saltbox home of Thomas Painter and one of the oldest homes in the state was featured as an example of early Connecticut architecture in Isham & Brown’s 1905 Early Connecticut. In 1959-60, the house was moved, except for its Victorian wing, to the National Historic North Street site in Litchfield, the former home of Dr. Lyman Beecher and the birth site of Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Col. Benjamin Tallmadge House, 1775
This gambrel-roofed dwelling was built by Thomas Sheldon, the son of Elisha Sheldon Sr. and the brother of Col. Elisha Sheldon. Col. Benjamin Tallmadge purchased the house, barn and storehouse in 1782. Architecturally, this is one of the finest High Georgian residences in the borough. Tallmadge enlarged the original dwelling with the addition of the giant order, Tuscan-columned porticos on the north and south sides of the home, lending an air of monumentality not exhibited by other 18th-century structures in the borough.
Ozias Seymour House, 1807
This central-chimney, Federal-style home was built by Ozias Seymour on a lot immediately north of his father’s home and hat shop. Seymour was in business with his father and uncle in the manufacture and sale of hats made of beaver fur and lamb’s wool. The 1884 map of the house shows not only the store but also extensive sheds and outbuildings behind the house. A previous owner removed the original door to Seymour’s shop, replacing it with a compatible window.
George C. Woodruff House, 1829
Remaining in the Woodruff family for 137 years, this structure has a rear two-story addition that dates to the late 19th century. In 1916, the south porch was removed and a two-story wing added with a single-story Tuscan covered veranda on the rear.
G. Morris Woodruff House, 1855
With its three bays wide with broad overhanging eaves and a deep plain frieze, this is the borough’s most ambitious example of the Italianate villa style. The shallow hip-roofed structure is crowned by a rectangular-windowed cupola. Of particular significance is the front porch supported by distinctive fluted columnar-like posts with bulbous bases atop pedestals.
Frederick Barnard House, 1886
The present Colonial Revival house incorporates a structure built by Frederick Augustus Porter Barnard as a summer residence. The north elevation suggests that the original styling was in the picturesque Colonial Revival mode. The three-bay façade has a shallow vestibule with a fluted pilaster frontispiece and a wooden lunette transom with iron grill. Both side elevations have bay windows.
Kingsbury Bull House, 1939
This house ranks as one of the most elegant Colonial Revival estates in the area. The 6,500-square-foot home, a diverse adaptation of a Federal estate, boasts a main entrance and central garden entrance set with magnificent Federal Revival frontispieces. The current homeowners have done a major interior renovation. The existing exterior palette and style were retained, but the outdated interior was transformed into a spacious weekend getaway.
Other highlights: Visitors can also view the Tapping Reeve House, the country’s first law school; the Litchfield County Jail, the borough’s oldest public building, now repurposed as shops, a restaurant and apartments; and several gardens adjacent to the tour houses.